Monday, April 13, 2009

An Interview with Antonio Orea and his Thoughts on the film MILK, Queer Latino identity, and Social Justice

Diego Luna’s character Jack, a Latino who comes to Harvey Milk after he splits with a longtime boyfriend. Jack’s portrayal was of a stereotypical Queen, which is to say he was the over the top feminine character who was completely unstable. He becomes the “stay-at-home” wife. He was said to “need” Harvey. He is always portrayed as being weak and needy, and there is nothing wrong portraying characters like this especially if they were staying true to the real events that took place but it all becomes a little bothersome when they constantly refer to the character as the crazy Latino man, mock him by referring to him as Cesar Chavez, have him become an immense on screen burdensome. The gender role dynamics of Harvey Milk and his first boyfriend Scott were as equals, is this by coincidence that they were both white?
Latino and Queer Identity
Other portrayals they showed of Latino culture were also degrading. In one scene Jack makes Harvey a traditional Mexican dish, and the prepared meals they showed on the screen were unappealing, bland looking dishes. What does that show of Mexican culture, what does that say about Latinos?
In the Mexican community when you come out and say your gay it’s assumed you turn into a woman and you’re seen and treated as such which means having no power and being uncomfortable with that lack of power.
Sexism within the gay community was shown accurately in the film with the lesbian campaign manager. Gay men still have their sexism and homophobia to deal with. Everyone internalizes lots of things, its something we learn to do at early ages. We learn to internalize racism and homophobia. For example, when growing up and your gay your just practicing how to be straight. Some men don’t want to have gay friends or even male feminine friends, and a lot of gay men don’t grow out of that
History, Race and Politics
Hollywood has a history of showing gay men being victimized, violently murdered as molesters, rapists, mentally unstable, serial killers, the list goes on. In the film MILK we see two deaths, one of the emotionally unstable Jack character and Milk being gunned down. I just ask were these scenes completely necessary to see? To relive?
The politics of the movie and what it shows of today was also evident. With what happened last year with Prop 8 in California, which was a bill that would give equal rights to same sex marriages, where basically the gay community only organized among themselves and openly gay communities in most cities are mostly white communities. So when the voting records show that people of color voted against the bill there was uproar but what do you really expect when they are only seeing this issue trough one lens and not seeing how any other issues of race or class or citizenship play into it. It’s sad to see not much has changed since the 70’s, they are still fighting for the same tunnel vision rights of marriage, but the word marriage in itself is a very hetero-normative meaning.
Even when MILK was represented in the Oscars their was such subtle racism at the Oscars, with everyone going up there and basically saying that if we can have a Black President then we should be able to have gay rights. I mean there are white wealthy men in this country without rights! We have to do something about this now!
Social Justice
In the film, there were light touches of the need for social justice, the lightly mentioned people of color he was in solidarity with, the working and lower class, and people with disabilities. But his slogan was really to come out to everyone you know. Come out to your family, your boss, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers etc. But when you think of the reality of people of color, “coming out to everyone” becomes a very white and privileged concept. I am not saying by any means that coming out isn’t something people of color need to do, but its just this assumption of coming out all at once to anyone and everyone is an unrealistic myth to a lot of poor queer people of color. It’s a process, it doesn’t have to be either or, there is a middle ground to where you want to still be safe and honest with yourself and people you love, but you also need your family, your tradition, and your culture. It’s natural in the process to lose some people who are important to you, and that hurt helps form your identity. I’m just saying that the experience of coming out is different for us who do not come from such a place of privilege.
Everything in the U.S is seen as an “either or” concept. Every issue is seen as white and black, democrat or republican, yes or no. When the majority of us live in that grey area where most people don’t want to take this issues, but in that grey area is where the tough answers are, its where the connections are made between issues, people and movements and we have to be able to push ourselves in those uncomfortable areas if we want to ever be able to move forward.

Reference Films:
Celluloid Closet
The Times of Harvey